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    Attacks no longer hot topic on campus

    Few now talk about Sept. 11. While remembrances last week were common, many college students want to move on.

    By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 15, 2002


    Hiba Abdul-Rahim started wearing a traditional Muslim head scarf at age 8, earlier than most women. It's made her familiar with the stares and questions.

    But after Sept. 11, 2001, she faced more than that.

    Family members begged the 19-year-old Florida State University student not to go out alone. People accused her of supporting terrorism. One man told her to go back home.

    The fear soon faded, however.

    As the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks came and went last week, students on Florida's college campuses were more preoccupied with studying for classes, deciding whether to pledge a fraternity or sorority and decorating dorm rooms.

    "I haven't heard anyone talking about it," said Zeeshan Hafeez, 20, a sophomore at New College in Sarasota. "It might be that people are over it -- or maybe they've dealt with it already."

    Talk about Sept. 11 has all but disappeared on college campuses, although the attacks have left lasting impressions at schools here and around the nation.

    Professors incorporate terrorism into their curriculum. Students are more interested in the world, and more are choosing to study abroad. Campuses are full of ways to learn about Islam, even outside the classroom.

    Perhaps no Florida school has been more affected than the University of South Florida, where Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian set off a firestorm when he appeared on national TV after the attacks.

    "We want to educate people, keep them informed," said Allegra Coleman, 19, a USF sophomore who converted to Islam as a child. "I would rather people ask questions than assume things."

    International students, hundreds of whom left the country last fall, face the most profound impact as a slew of new federal restrictions go into effect. The government wants to be sure foreign students take the courses they were approved to take and attend the schools they said they would attend.

    Congress mandated tracking of international students in 1996, but it was delayed for years amid resistance from some educators. The program moved back to the forefront last year after a discovery that one of the 19 presumed hijackers had entered the country on a student visa issued through a school he never attended.

    "Politicians have made international students scapegoats," said Pavel Ivanov, 42, a graduate student at Florida State from Bulgaria. "It might be good to have new programs in place but not to go to extremes...They shouldn't have relaxed the rules in the first place."

    The measures are supposed to close loopholes that have led to the government losing track of foreign students, who number about 550,000 each year. In past years, thousands of foreign students accepted to more than one American college switched schools once they arrived. Others simply disappeared while in the United States.

    Last week, state officials released enrollment numbers that showed the number of foreign students dropped by about 20 percent this fall. University administrators expect those numbers to rise after final reports are tallied.

    Some students may be caught in screening processes or delayed by the months it now takes to acquire a visa. They may have failed to prove they intend to return home when they finish school or authorities consider their fields, such as microbiology, sensitive.

    "It's important for students to know the rules and abide by the rules," said Roberta Christie, who heads FSU's international center, which helps 1,000 foreign students each year.

    Manoel Pires, 20, a St. Petersburg College sophomore, went home to Brazil in summer 2001 to visit his family, and delayed his return because his mother was worried he wouldn't be safe. He braced for problems when he came back in January, but he didn't have any, although two of his Brazilian friends who wanted to study here couldn't get approval.

    Programs that took American students to other countries saw a downturn last fall, but have rebounded. At the University of Central Florida, school officials have seen record-breaking numbers of student involved, including three who traveled to Jordan for the first time in the program's history.

    "All of a sudden, there is an interest," said Mathilda Harris, who heads UCF's office of international studies. "There's an understanding that in order to live on this planet, you need to understand about other cultures."

    Last week, schools across Florida commemorated the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11 with vigils, prayers and speeches. Though hundreds of students participated in events Wednesday, tens of thousands of others did not. For them, it was business as usual.

    Many students contacted for this article did not want to comment. They included foreign students or American-born Muslim students, some of whom didn't want their names associated with the attacks.

    But others, even those cursed and threatened immediately after the attacks because of the way they look, continue to spread the word about their religions and nationalities. They have held open houses at mosques, passed out literature and organized discussion groups.

    "There were a lot of questions," said Marwan Shaikh, a University of Florida junior. "We wanted to clarify misconceptions."

    Hafeez, of New College, whose parents are from Pakistan, created a Muslim organization at his small, liberal arts campus after the attacks to educate people. The group continues to work toward the same goals this year.

    But Musab Al-Yahia, a 21-year-old USF senior whose parents are from Iraq, said some things have changed since last fall, including the attitude of some Muslims in America.

    "For a while, we got in a defensive mode where we apologized. But with an apology comes some kind of guilt," he said. "It took us a while but we realized we should be sympathizing but not apologizing."

    -- Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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